Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NBC Reports Energy Secretary, EPA Chief

Chu_ISSM_Website_Photo_edited NBC's First Read has the story first:

From NBC's Savannah Guthrie
Obama will name Steven Chu his choice for Energy secretary, Lisa Jackson for EPA administrator and Carol Browner as energy "czar" reporting to the president.

It is unclear whether the Browner position is cabinet level.

This will not be officially announced this week.

We'll have more on this later.

Interesting to note up top, though, is that Steven Chu is a signatory on the DOE Labs' report "A Sustainable Energy Future: The Essential Role of Nuclear Energy," released this past August. You can read that here (as a pdf). Chu, a Nobel prize winner in physics, is director of the Berkeley Lab. You can learn more about him here. Here's a taster:

Chu has also reinvigorated Berkeley Lab’s existing programs for energy-efficient buildings, more powerful batteries, and monitoring greenhouse gases. He has made Berkeley Lab a center for powerful new climate models based on fundamental carbon science.

He would seem to fit the energy policy President-elect Obama has articulated and should, at least until that policy starts to coalesce onto paper, calm some nerves in how the Obama administration will approach nuclear energy.

Steven Chu himself. A very "who, me?" kind of pose. Well, as it happens, yes, him.

26 comments:

Charles Barton said...

National Lab directors are very political, and Chu has offered strong support for much of the Green line on energy while offering a weak and ambiguous commitment to nuclear energy. I am going to look at his public statements more carefully before i count this as a win for energy sanity.

Kirk Sorensen said...

I very much hope that he will oppose the wasteful, expensive, and unnecessary destruction of the ~1000 kg of uranium-233 at Oak Ridge National Labs.

Brian said...

Encouraging news indeed. It seems he realizes nuclear energy has a definite role in the energy mix, in line with most energy experts.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-10787_3-9888608-60.html?tag=nefd.lede

"Nuclear has to be a necessary part of the portfolio." The fear of radiation shouldn't even enter into this, he said. "Coal is very, very bad."

Anonymous said...

Steven Chu is a Nobel laureate. Perhaps other national laboratory directors are political, but Chu got to where he is purely by his own exceptional capability. LBNL is one of the smallest DOE labs, and does not have any massive programs/facilities in the mix, so he comes with a lot of knowledge about the national labs and little conflict of interest. In his public speeches, he has clearly supported nuclear energy as a low carbon fuel source. This is an outstanding choice.

Pete said...

But what about Carol Browner as 'Energy Czar'? Isn't she more powerful, having the ear of the president directly? She is also a veteran Washington DC insider with many political friends, and those friends are strongly anti-nuclear. The Chu nomination seems fine, but the Browner announcement worries me.

Ondrej Chvala said...

Cool! I'm very glad Obama chosen Dr. Chu, congratulations to both of them.

PS - I expect all the anonymous commentators who said "Dont vote Obama, he will appoint an anti-nuke energy secretary", to apologize!

Luke said...

Kirk: I hope so. Perhaps you could consider writing Chu letters or something, to bring his attention to this issue? At least he's not your ordinary politician, hopefully he'll hear you out, and of course he knows what you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

Ondrej Chvala,

I am uncertain that I should apologize. Here is Chu's Power Point Presentation on alternative energy sources in March 28, 2005:

http://www.lbl.gov/solar/ipfiles/plenary/chu_Solar_to_Chem_Energy_3-28-05.ppt

He devoted one half of one slide to nuclear fission and does so only to cite the "problems" of waste and proliferation, and how we have to build a new reactor every other day for the next 50 years to supply our energy needs.

This is NOT a victory for the nuclear energy industry. It isn't a loss, either, but Chu is a physicist, NOT an engineer, and his approach is typically the "soft" energy path that clearly does NOT work.

Anonymous said...

Folks,

I do want to add that I am very happy that Chu did sign the August, 2008 report on nuclear energy being essential to our country:

http://www.ne.doe.gov/pdfFiles/rpt_SustainableEnergyFuture_Aug2008.pdf

BUT his first love is renewable energy. That doesn't make him a bad person, and he isn't really a bad choice per se for DOE Secretary. Rather, since nuclear is far from his first love, it isn't going to get the impetus that it would have had under McCain with his plan for 40 new reactors had been elected. (Yes, I did vote for McCain / Palin, and that doesn't make me a bad person, either.)

Now that doesn't mean I am denigrating Obama for his choice of Chu. NO. Obama could have done a lot worse and appointed Robert Kennedy or Amory Lovins. I am thankful he didn't. Yet those things being said, Chu is hardly ideal for nuclear energy and he is a theoretical physicist, NOT a bona fide engineer.

Now look at the history of theoretical physicists in public office. Start with Shirley Jackson whom Clinton appointed to the NRC from RPI (I think). When she was NRC Chairperson she talked about the malaise of the nuclear industry and how in 20 years there would be 50 fewer plants. Further, I can't say that her precautionary principle response to the Millstone debacle in the 90s was ideal. The whole 50.54f project was a useless exercise in paperwork trivia. And I was so happy when she left and Nils Diaz from INSPI in Florida got the Chairmanship. What a difference it made in the NRC to have a bona fide engineer in charge instead of a theoretical physicist.

So no, I am not enamored that Chu will be DOE secretary. And I expect him to be more of a Shirley Jackson than an actual go-getter. Yet who knows? Maybe I will be happily proven wrong! One can hope!

Brian said...

I agree he has a more restrained view of nuclear energy. Nonetheless, he seems to realize that it will be necessary to effectively combat climate change. The case for nuclear is strong and so long as the government does not offer disincentives, it can live on its own advantages. I have always said nuclear energy needs to be a non-partisan issue.

An extra comment on the malaise of the 90s was fueled by cheap natural gas. If those prices could have been sustained forever, there would be no economic reason to build nuclear plants. Of course, we know better now and we can hope our experts do as well.

The Dept. of Energy's primary role is to deal with the nuclear weapons complex and do basic energy research. There is plenty of good research to be done on the renewable technologies, especially in the transportation sector. Hopefully, nuclear will get a fair share as well.

It is much better to have someone who is clearly capable of knowing how to read data and understand science than someone who is an ideological hack.

Anonymous said...

Brian,

It's clear that Chu is NOT an ideological hack. Perhaps unlike Shirley Jackson he will be, as you say, "...capable of knowing how to read data and understand science." Sadly, that doesn't appear to have been the case with former NRC commissioner and theoretical physicist Shirley Jackson.

You're correct that a lot of good work remains to be done with regard to renewable energy, and DOE can do that. You're also correct that govt should not offer disincentives. But bear in mind that financing wind and solar while neglecting nuclear would be a disincentive to nuclear. As long as the playing field is level (no government money for anyone, and the same regulations for everyone - nobody gets to dump his refuse into the environment any longer), THEN and ONLY THEN can nuclear really compete.

But if DOE under Chu ends up financing massive subsidies for wind and solar (when they can at most supply just 20% of US electricity), and cuts out Bush's GNEP (and I fear that will happen), then nuclear won't be able to compete because of the Tonya Harding effect - the industry will have been knee-capped.

Yes, let's hope and pray that Chu proves you correct and actually reads the data and the science. Theoretical physicists are good at this for their personal theoretical projects, but when it comes to engineering, they usually "suck" at this - hence my example of Shirley Jackson - what a disappointment!

D. Kosloff said...

I will apologize when I see the dirt fly.

Already, the NRC ASLB adminstrative judges have begun making outrageous decisions against nuclear power. Decisions that are clearly contrary to the regulations, as well as policy and (biting my tongue) common sense. Those decisions tell me that they have been told which way the wind is going to be blowing.

Charles Barton said...

There are fatal flaws in the renewables program. Making renewables reliable will be very expensive, and the greater the penetration of renewables into the grid, the greater the expense. The second major issue is that the country is broke, and cannot afford the costs associated with the renewables program. Green is the color of your money, the money the Greens want to take from you pay for their crazy energy schemes.

Anonymous said...

D Kosloff,

While I am inclined to agree with your sentiments, I don't find confirmation of what you stated at the proceedings of the ASLB:

http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/aslbp/2008/

Right now the ASLB is hearing David Geisen, one of the enginering people cited as responsible for the problems at DB that resulted in RPV head degradation. I'll be interested to see what they decide. But I don't find evidence that "...the NRC ASLB adminstrative judges have begun making outrageous decisions against nuclear power." Of course, one could argue that any decision they make is against nuclear power, but that isn't the point. Rather, if you could provide web links to documents substantiating your statement, then I would be overjoyed. I really think you are right, but that's a suspicion, not a fact.

I also think that the next commission appointment (there's one vacancy right now) will be another person like anti-nuclear power Jackzo, Harry Reid's hand-picked man.

But maybe Obama will happily prove me wrong - one can hope and pray!

Brian said...

I notice you seem to have a disdain for physicists based on two data points. While I will not argue with you on the specific individuals you point out, it seems that you are basing your argument on a very limited data set. Not saying that you are necessarily wrong about Chu, I am just saying that you do not have a statistically significant sample to say, "he's a physicist, therefore he will probably be bad for nuclear".

The good thing is that it appears he is not reflexively anti-nuclear and does not seem ideological. Yes, he has pointed out issues with nuclear energy, but he has also brought up benefits in other venues as well. So long as he helps govern like a pragmatist as the Obama administration seems to value, it will be a good thing because the numbers do not add up without nuclear.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Brian, but I am a pessimist when it comes to political appointments. :-(

Let's hope and pray you're correct! That would actually make me happy.

Anonymous said...

So the only people qualified to run NRC or DOE are nuclear engineers? That's sort of like saying the only people qualified to work at SEC are insider traders. Slight issue with bias in both cases.

Anonymous said...

To the last anonymous, I did not say that only nuclear engineers should be in the DOE and NRC. Rather, I intimated that theoretical physicists aren't always the best choice over nuclear engineers for offices like these. However, I also said previously that Dr. Chu certainly is NOT a bad choice and Obama could have done a lot worse. While I opposed Obama's candidacy, I am pleasantly surprised by most of his choices for his White House staff and cabinet. I think that Obama really does NOT want to screw this up (any more than it already is screwed up), and I sense that he's a man of principles (with many of which I disagree - but at least I can respect him). So Dr. Chu is an OK choice and certainly a far better choice than what I would have expected from Obama for DOE secretary. I just hope and pray that Obama doesn't appoint any more Jackzo's to the NRC.

I am trying to be unbiased here.

Ray Lightning said...

As energy secretary, Dr. Chu is concerned with overseeing the inventory of nuclear weapons and fissile material.

It is not directly his job, about overseeing which form of power plants to build.

However, he is a smart guy (a Nobel prize winner) - smarter than most of the bloggers round here.

One interesting thing to note : Dr Chu stringently opposes Yucca Mountain. That is bad news for the NEI people who are badly eyeing to get hold of that pork. Dr Chu is more favorable to reprocessing and breeder reactors.. And he is quite concerned about global warming, so he will make smart choices.

David Bradish said...

That is bad news for the NEI people who are badly eyeing to get hold of that pork.

It's not "pork" when it's the nuclear industry's money in the first place that has been put into the Nuclear Waste Fund.

Charles Barton said...

Every National Laboratory Director knows that Alvin in Weinberg got fired for being open and honest about his views. National Laboratories are very much political institutions. It is quite possible that Steve Chu holds his real cards close to his chest, and tells the politicians what they want to here. Chu's object has been to keep funds flowing to LBNL, not to speak truth to power.

Anonymous said...

David,

You are 100% correct. The right answer is for the govt to return all the moneys it took for waste management and tell the utilities to fix their own waste problem - which is NOT a problem. It would force reprocessing. Putting spent fuel for permanent geologic repository in Yucca is simply stupid.

BUT that being said, Harry Reid is equally stupid. He could use Yucca to make all kinds of money for the people in Nevada. Instead he fights it tooth and nail. I just don't get it.

But maybe Chu, being smarter than most of the rest of the bloggers here, will get it.

As for Charles Barton's comment, I actually hope you're wrong (but suspect you're right) and Chu turns out to be an honest man. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt first. I usually would not say that about any liberal appointee, but I am not too terribly disappointed by what I read of Chu. Yes, he is enamored with renewable energy stuff. But that doesn't make him a bad person.

Anonymous said...

"it's the nuclear industry's money in the first place that has been put into the Nuclear Waste Fund."

No, that money came from electricity ratepayers.

David Bradish said...

No, that money came from electricity ratepayers.

If you go by that logic then you'll just end up in a circle. Where do ratepayers get there money? From their employers of course. Well, where do their employers get their money? From the consumers of course. Well, where do the consumers get their money? And on, and on, and on.

So where does it end? How about it ends with whoever directly puts the money into the waste fund?

D. Kosloff said...

From Powerlineblog
http://www.powerlineblog.com/
Yesterday came word that Barack Obama (1) will nominate Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to be Secretary of Energy, and (2) will turn to Carol Browner, ally of Al Gore and EPA administrator under Bill Clinton, as his "energy coordinator." Leftists unhappy with Obama's national security and/or economic teams will find plenty to like here.

"Shopfloor," the blog of the National Association of Manufacturers, offers what I take to be grudging admiration for the way Obama dealt this card.

Classic inside-outside game. Chu, with his stellar reputation and record of accomplishments, will handle the image and PR side of the Administration's energy push. Browner, the regulator and political infighter, will be responsible for managing the internal disputes, imposing discipline, pushing the regulatory, legislative and policy agenda. Smart politics. Hard to see how the combination will improve U.S. competitiveness, but it's an effective political strategy for achieving one's goals.

Anonymous said...

No, that money came from electricity ratepayers.
---------------------
No - the tax is on the UTILITIES; it is money paid by the ratepayers that the utilities could have KEPT for themselves; if not for the tax. Hence, the money belongs to the utilities; NOT the ratepayer.